Saturday, October 6, 2018
Flowers for Algernon
There are some novels that stick with me. These are books and stories that seem personal and talismanic, capturing some essence of my own life, speaking over and over to something about my life in different ways through time. Whether or not these are the best books ever written is unclear to me. I am too personally involved. My short list has contained Catcher in the Rye (inability to adjust to a broken world, especially while broken), Pride and Prejudice (deep love teaching humility), Mice and Men (a reflection on my life working with a library automated check in machine), Kafka's short story The Hunger Artist (my own sometimes confusing desire to make art and the equally confusing reactions of others to it), and Flowers for Algernon.
What is it about Flower for Algernon?
I think it is the story of everything that happens to us in life, and the story of life itself.
Charlie is a person with an IQ of 68 who understands little of the world around him. But he is enrolled in some sort of experimental procedure which slowly makes him into a genius. Alas, the effect is revealed to be only temporary and Charlie slowly reverts back to his former capabilities.
Everything that opens up to us is a miracle, hitherto unimagined, and we are made magnificent just in the witness of it, in our soaring possibility, but it all begins to slip away from the moment it reaches its height. All our powers meet something greater, and, helplessly, we are driven back where we began, watching it all slip away.
Where we are at any given time in that trajectory is the question, isn't it?